SUBJECT: Romans 14
QUESTIONS: What is this chapter about? Do
any of its verses speak to doing away with the Law, clean
and unclean meats or the Sabbath?
To understand Romans 14, let
us begin at looking at some of the Bible Outlines that are
available to us.
Bible Book Outlines\New
E. Tolerance necessary for
those with strong and weak consciences. 14:1-15:13.
1. Differences of opinion
over food or special days. 14:1-6.
2. Judgment by the Lord, not
by one's brother. 14:7-12.
3. Removal of stumbling
Wycliffe Bible Commentary
A. The Christian's relation
to consecration (12:1-2)
B. The Christian's relation
to God's gifts (12:3-8)
C. The Christian's relation
to fellow Christians (12:9-16)
D. The Christian's relation
to mankind in general (12:17-21)
E. The Christian's relation
to civil government (13)
F. The Christian's relation
to a weak brother (14:1-15:13)
New Unger's Bible Dictionary
As we can see, Romans 14 is a chapter dealing with new
members and/or those weak in the Faith. Nothing in these
outlines would indicate that the doctrines of Sabbath, diet
or the Law are done away.
SUBJECT OF CLEAN AND UNCLEAN MEATS
Does anything in Romans 14
do away with the dietary laws?
Many believe that Romans 14
supports the idea that Christians are free from all former
restrictions regarding meats. Verse 14, in which Paul wrote,
"I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is
nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything
to be unclean, to him it is unclean," is often cited as a
This approach, however,
fails to consider the author's perspective and the context
of his letter to the Roman church. Many Bible resources
agree that the book of 1 Corinthians was written about 55,
although Romans was probably written from Corinth in 56 or
57. As demonstrated above, the food controversy in Corinth
was over meat sacrificed to idols. Since Paul was writing to
the Romans from Corinth, where this had been a significant
issue, this subject was fresh on Paul's mind and is the
logical, biblically supported basis for Romans 14.
Understanding Paul's intent
Those who assume the subject
of Romans 14 is a retraction of God's law regarding clean
and unclean animals must force this interpretation into the
text because it has no biblical foundation.
The historical basis for the
discussion appears, from evidence in the chapter itself, to
have been meat sacrificed to idols.
Verse 2 contrasts the one
who "eats only vegetables" with the one who believes "he may
eat all things": meat as well as vegetables.
Verse 6 discusses eating or not eating and is variously
interpreted as referring to fasting (no eating or drinking),
vegetarianism (eating only vegetables) or eating or not
eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Verse 21 shows that meat
offered to idols was the dominant issue of this chapter: "It
is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything
by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made
weak." Both meat and wine were commonly offered to idols in
the Roman world, with portions of those offerings then sold
in the marketplace.
Those who assume the subject
of Romans 14 is a retraction of Godís law must force this
interpretation into the text.
The Life Application Bible
comments on verse 2: "The ancient system of sacrifice was at
the center of the religious, social, and domestic life of
the Roman world. After a sacrifice was presented to a god in
a pagan temple, only part of it was burned. The remainder
was often sent to the market to be sold. Thus a Christian
might easily-even unknowingly-buy such meat in the
marketplace or eat it at the home of a friend. Should a
Christian question the source of his meat? Some thought
there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been
offered to idols because idols were worthless and phony.
Others carefully checked the source of their meat or gave up
meat altogether, in order to avoid a guilty conscience. The
problem was especially acute for Christians who had once
been idol worshipers. For them, such a strong reminder of
their pagan days might weaken their newfound faith. Paul
also deals with this problem in 1 Corinthians 8."
What is the point of Paul's
instruction in Romans 14? Depending upon their consciences,
early believers had several choices they could make while
traveling or living in their communities. If they did not
want to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they
could choose to fast or eat only vegetables to make sure
they did not consume any meat of suspicious background that
might offend their conscience. If their consciences were not
bothered by eating meat sacrificed to idols, they could
choose any of the options. Within this context, Paul said,
"Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (verse 5)
because "whatever is not from faith is sin" (verse 23).
Romans 14 is, in part, a
chapter on Christian liberty-acting according to one's
conscience within the framework of God's laws as they
pertained to meat sacrificed to idols. Understood in its
context, Romans 14 is not a permit to eat pork or any other
unclean meat. When one understands that the historical food
controversy of the New Testament dealt with meat sacrificed
to idols and not which meats were clean, other scriptures
become clear. ---end---
Thus we see that Romans 14 in no way does away with clean
and unclean meat laws.
OF THE SABBATH AND THE HOLY DAYS
In this section we are going
to show that Romans 14 is not talking about the Sabbath or
the Holy days. It is talking about pursuing peace with your
brothers and sisters, some of who are new to the church or
are weak in the faith.
Paul gives advice on this
subject in Romans 14:19: "Therefore let us pursue the things
which make for peace and the things by which one may edify
another." This seems so obvious that it need not be said,
but God includes it in His Word because Christians within
the church do not hold in check some of the very things that
cause so much disunity in this world. The apostle entreats
us to lay aside the causes of contention so we can live in
Sometimes we do not
understand how competitive human nature is. It is proud. It
feels it has to win, be vindicated, and if possible,
elevated over others. These attitudes do not make peace.
Rather than pursuing the things that cause contention, Paul
says, pursue the things that cause peace. It is a
Christianís responsibility, part of his vocation.
Emphasizing the positive is an incomplete, but nonetheless
fairly accurate, description of what can be done.
Solomon writes in Proverbs
13:10, "By pride comes only contention, but with the
well-advised is wisdom." Contention divides. Much of the
strife and disunity in the church is promoted by those who
seem bent on "majoring in the minors." This is the overall
subject of Romans 14. Church members were becoming "bent out
of shape" over things that irritated them but had little or
nothing to do with salvation. They blew these irritants out
of proportion to their real importance, creating disruption
in the congregation.
Essentially, Paul tells
these people to change their focus, to turn the direction of
their thinking, because we agree on far more of real, major
importance to salvation than what we disagree on. If we will
cooperate on these major things rather than on private ends
and prejudices, peace and unity will tend to emerge rather
than strife and disunity. Paul further admonishes the
irritated members to have faith in Godís power to change the
other: "Who are you to judge anotherís servant? To his own
master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand,
for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).
Did Paul abolish the
Many who argue that the
Sabbath was abolished in the New Testament point to the
apostle Paul's writings to justify their opinion. But is
this correct? Three passages are commonly cited to support
that claim: Romans 14:5, 6; Colossians 2:16, 17; and
Galatians 4:9, 10.
A basic principle for
understanding the Bible is to look at each verse in context,
both in the immediate context of what is being discussed and
in the larger social and historical context influencing the
author and his audience at the time. Let's examine each of
these verses in context and see if Paul indeed annulled or
abolished Sabbath observance.
First, let's consider Paul's
own statements about God's law. More than 25 years after the
death of Jesus Christ, He wrote in Romans 7:12, "Therefore
the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and
good." In Romans 2:13 he stated, "For not the hearers of the
law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law
will be justified." In Romans 7:22 he said, "For I delight
in the law of God according to the inward man."
Many assume that, once we
have faith in Jesus Christ, there is no more need to keep
the law. Paul himself addressed this concept in Romans 3:31:
"Do we then make void [Greek katargeo, meaning 'destroy' or
'abolish'] the law through faith? Certainly not! On the
contrary, we establish [Greek
histemi, meaning 'erect' or 'make to stand'] the
law." Faith does not abolish the law, said Paul; it
establishes and upholds it.
Are all days of worship
alike?: Romans 14:5, 6
In Romans 14:5, 6, Paul
wrote: "One person esteems one day above another; another
esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his
own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;
and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not
observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God
thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not
eat, and gives God thanks."
From this statement, it
could appear to some that Paul is saying that whatever day
one chooses to rest and worship is irrelevant so long as one
is "fully convinced in his own mind" and "observes it to the
Lord." Does this mean that the Sabbath is no different from
any other day or that we are free to choose whatever day we
wish to observe?
To come to that conclusion,
one must read it into the verse, because the Sabbath is
nowhere mentioned here. In fact, the word Sabbath or
references to Sabbath-keeping are not found anywhere in this
epistle. The reference here is simply to "days," not the
Sabbath or any other days of rest and worship commanded by
Keep in mind that Paul,
earlier in this same epistle, had said: "The law is holy,
and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12);
"The doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13), and
"I delight in the law of
God" (Romans 7:22). If he were saying here that Sabbath
observance is irrelevant, such an assertion would be
completely inconsistent with his other statements in this
What days did Paul discuss?
What are the days Paul
mentions here? We must look at the context to find out.
Paul was writing to a mixed
church of Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. In verses 2
and 3 Paul discussed vegetarianism ("he
who is weak eats only vegetables") and continued
this theme in verse 6 ("he
who eats...and he who does not eat").
The passage in question
about days is in verses 5 and 6, immediately between
references to eating meat and vegetarianism in verses 2, 3
and 6. There is no biblical connection between Sabbath
observance and vegetarianism, so these verses have to be
taken out of context to assume that Paul was referring to
"The close contextual
association with eating suggests that Paul has in mind a
special day set apart for observance as a time for feasting
or as a time for fasting" (Everett
F. Harrison, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, p.
146). It is apparent that Paul was discussing
Roman or other special days during which feasting, fasting
or abstaining from certain foods was practiced.
The context shows us that
some members of the congregation there were eating meat, and
others were abstaining from eating meat. The vegetarians
were likely members who "feared lest they should (without
knowing it) eat meat which had been offered to
idols or was otherwise ceremonially unclean (which
might easily happen in such a place as Rome),
that they abstained from meat altogether" (W.J.
Conybeare and J.S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St.
Paul, p. 530).
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul
addressed the issue of eating meat that may have been
sacrificed to idols and consequently could have been viewed
by some members as unfit to eat. Paul's point in that
chapter was that any association of food with idolatrous
activity had no bearing on whether that food was otherwise
suitable for eating.
It appears likely that Paul
was addressing the same issue in both groups, namely whether
members should avoid meats that may have been associated
with idolatrous worship. This may be indicated by Paul's
reference to "unclean" meat in Romans 14:14. Rather than
using the Greek word used to describe unclean, or
prohibited, foods listed in the Old Testament, he used a
word meaning common or defiled, which would be appropriate
in describing meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul's
advice in 1 Corinthians 8 was the same as his conclusion in
Romans 14:15: Be especially careful not to offend a fellow
member, causing him to stumble or lose faith over the issue
of meats. What is clear is that the Roman members' reason
for avoiding meat was directly related to the days they were
In no way was this related
to Sabbath observance because God's Sabbath is a "feast" day
(Leviticus 23:1-3), not a day when one must abstain from
eating meat. The Sabbath is nowhere mentioned in Paul's
letter to the Romans; it simply wasn't the issue. The days
mentioned here are obviously connected with avoidance of
meat, indicating that they are Roman or other observances
and not any days of worship commanded by God.
So we now understand that
Romans 14 in no way is speaking of the Sabbath much less
doing away with it.
From our Doctrine on the
Certain scriptures in Paul's
writings are often adduced as proof of his alleged attitude
that Sabbath observance is unnecessary or even evil. For
example, it is often held that Romans 14:5-6 shows that it
does not matter which day one keeps holy, but this is
actually nowhere stated. Since eating is mentioned several
times in the passage, some commentators suggest it may be a
question of fast days or something else to do with food.
Verse 5 speaks of esteeming one day above another but says
nothing about the reason for the preference. The word
"esteem" (Greek krino)
is not otherwise used of keeping a holy day. Similarly, in
verse 6, the word phroneo ("regardeth,"
KJV; "observes," RSV) is not otherwise used to
refer to the observance of festivals. To use this passage
as proof that Paul no longer believed Sabbath observance to
be necessary requires anti-Sabbatarians to demonstrate that
this is in fact what lies behind the statementósomething
that has not been done up to this time.
IS THE LAW
This one is easy to answer.
Paul states clearly that the law is still in effect.
Romans 7:12-14, 22
12 Wherefore the law is
holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was then that which is
good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might
appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that
sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
14 For we know that the law
is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
22 For I delight in the law
of God after the inward man:
1 Timothy 1:8
But we know that the law is
good, if a man use it lawfully;
There is no way for Romans 14 to be against the Law when so
many other places show the law to still be in effect.
We have established that Romans 14 is speaking of our
relationships with the brethren, be they new to the faith or
weak in the faith. Nothing in Romans 14 is speaking to or
doing away with the Law, the Sabbath & the Holy Days or
clean and unclean meat or dietary laws.
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